Chef2Farmer: Ethical Produce from Paddock to Plate
Farming is often associated with back breaking work, heartbreaking losses and record-breaking drought. Then there are those images of sickly animals crammed into cages or crowded under a solitary tree in the middle of a barren field. Farming might seem like an odd career move for a couple with a young family. But this is no ordinary farm…or family. We visit Chef2Farmer at Little Eden Farm.
Working With Nature
“We farm with nature and include nature,” explains Todd Richardson. “We work in tune with the animals and the pasture, so any additives and chemicals aren’t required.”
Todd says his ‘Aha!’ moment came when he was spreading a standard fertiliser on the paddock. It would produce a florescent green flush of forage that his animals couldn’t graze on for three weeks due to toxicity. He questioned why he was doing something that felt so wrong. Surely there was a better way.
“They say the biggest advantage a regenerative farmer has is if they are first generation,” Todd begins. “They don’t have those pre-conceived ideas or paradigms passed down – they’re open to looking at everything and trying various methods.”
That describes Todd and Lisa Richardson’s experience to a tee. Up until mid 2020, they owned and managed a successful café where Todd was the head chef. Gradually, his interest shifted from preparing food to producing it and Chef2Farmer began. A Holistic Management course with the Savory Institute planted a seed and opened Todd’s eyes to new possibilities. Equipped with knowledge on soil regeneration, pasture raising animals and creating biodiversity, Todd and Lisa began adopting new farming practices.
Animals Living Their Best Lives
For starters, the cows, pigs and chickens live in their natural environments. They spend their days foraging, digging, scratching and grazing at the freshest “salad bar” of grasses, legumes, native species and brassicas. But they don’t stay put. The cows are moved twice a day to allow the area they’ve munched, trampled and fertilised to recover. This process does wonders for root systems and soil quality. The chickens follow the cows and act as the clean-up crew. They spread manure, eat the grass and grass hoppers plus produce nitrogen rich fertiliser of their own. Meanwhile the pigs tear through overgrown areas. While living their absolute best lives, they’re upturning plants, making mud wallows and breaking the ground for new crops. Who needs a bulldozer when you have these guys?
The Meat You Want to Eat
A tour around the property reveals rolling hills covered in the greenest grass and healthy livestock contained by just a single line of electric fence. Todd and Lisa greet their animals by name with affectionate pats…which may appear at odds with the idea of bacon or steak on a plate. But if meat is on the menu, the Richardsons are doing everything in their power to make sure it’s ethical, sustainable and chemical free. Todd’s experience in the kitchen means he knows the importance of fresh, quality produce. A chef since the age of 16 and former owner of LV’s on Clarence, he’s bridging the gap between consumers and producers.
“After close to 20 years in the kitchen I really enjoy being outside with nature,” he says. “But my chef side comes into farming too – I look at the product in a different light to a standard farmer.”
Farm Tours and Market Stalls
Soon Lisa and Todd will open the farm for tours as a way to connect families with their food. Lisa says the first two-hour walking tour is scheduled for next month.
“It’s about education and having a nice day out in nature,” she explains. “It will be hands-on for the kids – feeding the cows, collecting the eggs, seeing the piglets.”
“Eventually I’d like to tailor the tours to suit different interests and offer a meal at the end.”
Chef2Farmer products are available online, and the Richardsons have just joined Port Central’s weekly Real Food Market. It will be the first time they’ve sold direct to customers and Lisa’s says she’s looking forward to getting to know the families they supply to. Speaking of family, their children are part of the operations at Little Eden too. 12-year-old Laiken and 10-year-old Violet do need a bit of prodding, but three-year-old Sapphire is “a born farm girl”.
“She cries if I say she can’t come along and do jobs, laughs Todd. “She absolutely loves it – she even has a pet cow that she sits on!”